As I’ve reported before, meat consumption comes with a high environmental cost. In fact, a new study shows that to meet climate goals and avoid ecological destruction, meat consumption must be reduced by 75 percent or more globally. The research was carried out by scientists at the University of Bonn.
“If all humans consumed as much meat as Europeans or North Americans, we would certainly miss the international climate targets and many ecosystems would collapse,” explained study co-author Dr. Matin Qaim. “We therefore need to significantly reduce our meat consumption, ideally to 20 kilograms or less annually. The war in Ukraine and the resulting shortages in international markets for cereal grains also underline that less grain should be fed to animals in order to support food security.”
The scientists don’t think that everyone abstaining from meat is the answer to the problem. They note that vegetables and legumes are not universally available and can’t be grown everywhere.
“We can’t live on grass, but ruminants can,” said lead author Dr. Martin Parlasca. “Therefore, if grassland cannot be used in any other way, it makes perfect sense to keep livestock on it.”
It’s especially true that people in poor countries might rely on livestock for an important part of their diet. However, it’s also important to note that those living in poor countries also eat less meat than those in rich nations like the US and Australia, where there is more access to a diverse array of foods, including vegetarian options.
Although there are more vegetarians now in rich nations than in the past, it’s not enough. Meat consumption has leveled off in the EU, but levels are still incredibly high in the US and Australia. The researchers argue that the solution is to implement a hefty meat tax in rich nations.
“That’s certainly unpopular, especially since a ten- or twenty-percent surcharge probably wouldn’t be enough, if it’s supposed to have a steering effect,” said Dr. Quaim. “Meat, however, has a high environmental cost that is not reflected in current prices. It would be entirely reasonable and fair to have consumers share more of these costs.”
Another way to tackle the problem is to implement educational standards that tell students about the ecological impact of consumption habits.
“We need to become more sensitive to the global impact of our decisions,” said Dr. Qaim. “This is true not only with food, but also with the shirt we buy at the discount store to wear for a single evening at a party.”
By Zach Fitzner, Earth.com Staff Writer